So there have been a few times in last week I have found myself apologising for being grumpy, apologising for being moody, apologising for being snappy, apologising for being….. well pretty much everything! And in my haste to bring calm and order to my world, I have responded to apologies with….”Thats ok” which indicates that what the doer of deeds is apologising for, was acceptable. Or even worse I have ignored the apology and went off on on a tangent that causes the perpetraitor to switch off!
And the most cringe thing is?
I am apologising mostly to my kids because I am doing all the things I dont want them to do!
“Dont talk to me in that tone” or “Stop looking at me like that” – “Stop and think before you open your mouth” or the best one “I dont talk to you like that” (Using the shouty tone voice that I am angry at them for using). Can you see it?
We dont like to admit we are wrong, especially to our kids. Most of us want to believe we’re sensitive and that it’s the other people who are the problem. Also, the guilty feelings that come with recognising you’ve hurt someone else, along with the shame you feel when you see yourself behave badly, aren’t easy to tolerate. Typically we’ll try to defend against those painful feelings by justifying ourselves and filling our heads with the reasons we are allowed to behave that way – but our kids aren’t!
And our apologies are often not the best. I am really guilty of offering my fair share of but in mine. “I’m sorry for shouting BUT if you are going to behave like that, it winds me up!” or “I shouldnt have talked to you like that, I’m sorry IF I have hurt your feelings BUT how many times do you need to be told” or even (as has been the case this week)
“I’m sorry for losing my temper, but how many times do I need to show you how to reconnect to wifi”………..
As I write this I know my half assed apologies have been pathetic, pointless and probably caused more resentment than good. The shudder just went through me, I’m sure you know the one! Its the one that tells you hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So the first rule of apologising, whether it be to the kids or to a work collegue, a friend or family member. Leave the ‘if’s’ and the ‘buts’s’ out of it. For example, never say, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” or “I apologise for being insensitive, but you were acting in such a way that…”
Those words have the effect of reversing the apology by either calling the need to apologise into doubt or assigning the responsibility elsewhere – normally to the person you are making a half assed apology to! I’ve often heard people say, “I’m sorry if I came across too strong in what I said to you,” or something similar; those apologies always felt half-hearted and made me believe that it was me that had the problem not them, and i am sure that is not the point of an apology!
Another rule of apologising is that an apology should be a completely one-sided communication, an acknowledgement of guilt and regret on your side, asking nothing in return. But lets face it, when it comes to our kids, most of us are really not so hot at accepting an apology from our kids without giving them a lecture about why they needed to apologise in the first place.
Take the other day, when one of my Darlings opened up a packet of biscuits and helped themselves without my knowledge. In my defence it is a requirement in our house just now as we have a large household and everyone needs to have a fair share, or else our teenagers would go through the kitchen like a pack of locusts between the hours of 23.00 and 00.00 every night! Anyways teenager A comes through in one of thier rare outings from thier room, to speak to my wife and I. – which in hindsight I should have actually been honoured that they wanted to!!
I asked them about the opened cakes, they admit it, and say sorry! I go off on one, ranting about helping themselves, not listening to what we ask of them, treating this place like a hotel, being disrespectful….It was ugly….Not my finest moment!
My Teenager…..They would have standing with thier fingers in thier ears la-la-la-ing, because the moment they said sorry, that should have been it. I made the whole thing bigger by ranting. They switched off because I was bleating about the rules!
Turn that around to “Thank you for your apology, I am really grateful for it”
That is acknowledging that they said sorry, but also letting them acknowlege they did something wrong and can learn from it. I was today years old when this dawned on me!
I think that learning to apologise properly is an art and a skill. It takes guts, it takes vulnerability, it takes courage and can be one of the most important things we do in relationships. We all get it wrong, in our friendships, in our families and in our work teams. But being accountable for when your actions cause hurt goes a long way to repairing damage. Most importantly, caring about hurt feelings fosters love and trust.
They never teach you this stuff at school, and god forbid my generation’s parents were not the best at it. I think we have a chance to model what it is like to apologise meaningfully, and what it is like to recieve an apology, which in turn will teach our next generation the difference between getting it right and getting it totally wrong., the difference between accepting responsibility and shirking it. The difference between using our guilt to build resilience and learning, or use shame to enhance low self esteem and reduce self worth.
With regard to my teenager and bakewell gate – I decided I needed to say sorry and leave the lecture to another day. I needed to make it right and so I just waited till I calmed down from the 2oooo other things that had affected my day, took a deep breath, went through to the living room, stroked the back of thier head and said,
“I’m sorry for beeing a grumpy old fool.”
Incidently they never argued back!
Have a great week,